Note: This poem was created as a performance piece for Poetic Threads: Lady and the Unicorn. Actions are noted by italics.


Each thread is its own story
everything woven
is first a lonely particle
before collectively
in our physical selves
we are the same matter
as that which sits in here (heart)
in here (head)
to separate these three
is what masks humanity
from itself
- what makes us ugly

Before this (tapestry), there is:
the feeding of sheep
the dying of wool
the growing of cotton
the mulberry leaves and cultivating worms
the raw fibre of thread
spinning by hand
a universe twisting
in the palms of goddesses
trying to colour
the dreams in our heads
so when our eyes are closed
and our breathing has slowed
those parts disjointed
can finally flow

How much of history
is fantasy threaded
retold in those voices
so often conflated
a conflagration of our imaginations?

To find the truth
I close my eyes
summon your image
transported across planes
infinite and brimming

first I hear:
embers burning
the low crackle of coal
or wood in the stove
the whisper of wheels spinning
yarn of all colours
rain beading on roofs
pooling and dripping
outside misted windows
onto pale yellow primrose

I smell wool  
rung of its water
like damp moss
in the forests
we all once frolicked
freedom a knowing
instead of destination
the scent of endeavours sweat
is in here too
a mild reminder
of all that you do

I can taste
the garlic which hangs
besides onions and other
shelves laden
with the burden of your
unpaid labour:
jam jars and pickled pieces
smoked meats and rolled dough
your hands the creators tool
making and crafting
for all around you

(this, the place,
you’ve been told you belong
this state of being
can only be strong)

I see
your fingers knotted
working well beyond dark
then from early morning
creating the canvas on which
you shed your stories

If only I could touch
your needle and thread
your looms and your tools
hold your fingers still working
in front of dying embers

to better witness
these mysteries yielded
to cover the walls and the beds
of all of your daughters
quilts - battle flags
to warn of what’s coming
drumming magic in the chambers
of our heart’s inherent brilliance
The wars yet lost and won
This is your existence
Each square an imprint
Pressed deeper
a chart into the universe’s knowing

So why am I standing here
in front of this -
his work glorified
using the grandmasters pen
to spin fables
Tales told to trap beauty
lure the beast that is lonely
the gouged hole
made by a horn
magic, phallic and prone to brutality

How much of the natural world
is really here?
The stink, the whiskers
the manure and rot.
What of the constructs
of these man-made myths
selling their stories
as though they were truth
building memorials for fairytales
fantasies of the feminine
seen through the prism
of the lustful degenerate

Here she holds both banner and horn
strength in her stance
bold in her form
what of the women
who have no need for unicorns?
who have known they’re imagined
like the gift of virginity

what of the unicorns
still seeking out their virgins
verging on a violence not evident
in a tapestry so fantastic
but present in every fibre
of the masculine weight?

Just unravel a little corner here
I’ll show you what happens
to the women
who dare to counter those
dominant narratives

Come closer
let me feed you these stories
rich as they are
in humanities glories
the gory we’ll pretend
doesn’t exist
hide it beneath rich golds
and scarlet berry reds

swallow them down
deep in your belly
feel them swell
until you are pregnant
with fables this deadly

women use fabrics to share their warnings
whispered secrets between
the matriarch and her daughters
the sisters and her siblings
the witches and the worshippers

men use needles
to stitch down lies
perpetuating fallacy
to magnify their lives

but let’s feast on the magic
of twisted ideas
as the lion growls
and the servant girl
bends on her knee
we can pretend
that the fig
wasn’t in this Eden
that this Lady
has simply gobbled her demons

No aroma is strong enough
to mask the stench of prison
no garland pungent enough
to fracture the prism
through which we view
my Lady’s entrapment
amongst a menagerie
desperately seeking
to secure her passions

The unicorn is enamoured
by the perfume of her purity,
her virginal continuity
idealising a feminine mystique
created to keep men
and their morals weak

The lion erect, strong
a symbol of fidelity
seeking her scent
as he stands vigilantly
by the woman
fitting a mould of desire
still to be shattered
500 years later

But what is fidelity?
Vigilance and strength
when applied to the battle lines
of love and the feminine
how much is ownership
the possession of one
the all-consuming passion
devouring who we love
until all that remains
is a skeletal sketch
of who we thought we desired
but perhaps only projected

Maybe the monkey
knows something of romance
offering roses
a sickly sweet bouquet
as though all a woman needs
are a few pretty things
in order to be brought
to her weak little knees

I hear all that’s not said
everything uttered
under their breath
women walk
with the world’s words
in their ears
my Lady’s no different
she may be playing
but it’s not music she hears
it’s the cry of the falcon
soaring overhead
screaming a warning
while searching for prey
bones only sing for so long
the fires are still to come
the battles are yet begun

This Arcadian site
is almost too much to bear
the unicorn a narcissist
the lion now indifferent
my Lady forlorn
perhaps she is mourning
her freedom to love
beyond the constraints of
what’s been constructed
maybe she’d like to wrench
her lap from the unicorn’s grasp
let go of fallacy
claw back her sanity
instead she’s stuck in this garden
with hardly human company
her tongue stitched in silence
has her voice been stolen?
she may be centre piece
but she’s pure object
which stands true
for women throughout the ages
whether on famous tapestries
or naked on stages
we sit in the gaze of men
their fantasies played out
and nothing ever changes

Or maybe right here
we’re witnessing an escape
she’s riding herself
of that ghastly chain
ready to return to  
the world undone
she’s made a decision
she’s plotting a course
to flee the manicured garden
where expectation stalks
and desire hunts
she knows this is no
Garden of Eden
but the blueprint for how
a woman loses freedom

Here the battle lines are sewn
so that every generation knows
sacrifice is the woman’s plight
give up everything
to suffer the depths of loss
a sea of depravity
to drown your own desires
prepare to be consumed
and denied
by your lovers and sons
their brothers and enemies
know that a woman owns nothing
suffering is her place to be
her true reckoning

or don’t

or don’t

and this Lady she doesn’t
she sees this form of love
as total entrapment
a burden to wear
I see her fleeing
feet wet with freedom
running right off this fabric
and out through those doors
I’d throw them right open
and help her escape
watch as the air
lifted her cape

 So when I close my eyes
to conjure your image
I know what you wanted
is the opposite of these visions
not the frozen selves
that hang in museums
it’s your stories I crave
not this man-made mausoleum
for female freedom
keep your loom creating
and your wheels spinning
warning women of what happens
when we fall prey
to patriarchal beginnings

Each thread is its own story
every woman woven
is first a lonely particle
before collectively
in our physical selves
we are the same matter
hopes, fears and dust
so tell the Unicorn
the Lion and his cub
all the other animals
in this dense woven scrub
that the Lady has fled
to pursue a new life
a dream far beyond the unicorn’s
virginal little wife

Candy Royalle performs 'Threading Battle Lines'